Breaking Bread on Erev Shabbat

I have often wished I could make bread well enough to make Challah. Challah is the bread we break on Shabbat before Kiddish, the meal we celebrate ever Shabbat after services. A full service is 3 hours long and Jews like to socialize; so it is we like to have refreshments afterwards. As a matter of fact, I have to confess that many Jews observe Jewish Standard Time (i.e. come late), but I like to go on time because I love the feelings of the service and see no need to short change myself by only being there for when the Torah is being taken out of the Arc. Of course, I have my own way of being lazy: I rarely read the scriptures when they are being read. I simply listen to the Hebrew, which I speak very little of. Nonetheless, I do my best. I always feel there is something added to the service by having it in Hebrew. Hebrew–from what little I understand of it–is such a beautiful and poetic language. Yet I have only learned a few words and grammatical structures of it.

Anyway, the bread. Though it is not really for Shabbat, I made a loaf today. It is for Mom and me to share, and possibly anyone else who comes visiting. I would love it if I could get my friend Vlad to come over. The ingredients were:

4 cups All-Purpose Flour

3/4 cups Whole Wheat Flour

2 teaspoons Salt

1 1/4 teaspoons Yeast

1 3/4 cups Water + More Water

The process is deceptively simple:

  1. You mix all the dry ingredients.
  2. You add 1 3/4 Water and mix, if necessary with your hands.
  3. If need be (and I always do), add more Water to make the bread dough moist. Mix, if necessary with your hands.
  4. Then you put the bread aside. In 15-minutes, you knead the dough again. You do this after 4 15-minute periods. Then wait 1 hour and knead again. Then wait 1 more hour, and knead one last time.
  5. Then turn the oven to 450 degrees.
  6. Grease a pan. I am not sufficiently talented as a cook to put the bread on the wrack without it coming out misshapen (real cooks can). So I simply use a loaf pan.
  7. Smooth the top of the bread with water so it will feel and look nice when you bring it out of the oven.
  8. Once the oven is heated, put the break in the oven for 35 minutes.
  9. Then take out of the oven and let sit for a while.

It is hard work. In fact, it compares being of equal difficulty as Smoked Salmon Soufflés, Eggplant Parmesan Soup, and Matzo Ball Soup. I really believe producing bread is an art form, and I think the guy who wrote the cookbook I use would agree. People only don’t appreciate freshly baked bread because once they are eaten so is the evidence of the chef’s real talent and industry.

With that in mind I will tell you one of my “bread” stories. At my synagogue Dee (a woman who has attended for years) mentioned a woman who used to go before she died who went the through the Holocaust. “She used to make these Challah breads that were like works of Art. I asked her to teach me how to make them, but she didn’t have a system. She would just mix ingredients that ‘felt’ right.” Indeed, that woman must have been a treasure. I am only sorry I never got to meet her. I did however write a story using her as one of the models, “Loaves of Love.” I admit that one of the Jews I sent the story was offended, but I did have a friend at Chabad who asked if it was a real person, and I believe someday I will find somebody who appreciates it… The generation who lived through the Holocaust is dying off, and perhaps though I have only met a few examples of it, my story will in a small way be my effort of lighting a candle on Yom HaShoah. Perhaps some day I will also be able to bake real Challah bread!


Yet Two More School Shootings

First, I want to give my apologies about not writing about these two tragedies earlier. I am not really a journalist, but I feel like as a writer I have a special duty to speak after such tragedies. So here it goes: the opposite of love is not hate but indifference. To show our love for the children of Buffalo, New York, and Uvalde, Texas, we must act. For if we do not act, our words are meaningless. No doubt that this has itself been said over and over since Sandy Hook in Connecticut. In my memory there was another such tragedy at Columbine in Colorado, though at that time these incidents were much rarer and I was in High School myself. The point is, we must act.

I myself plan to write both my senator and my house of representative member. They are Republicans, but perhaps there in one or both of them a conscience still waiting to be awakened. Also I will say a few prayers tonight. Sometimes I am forgetful about my prayers, but this time I shall try to say something about the innocent children being murdered while going to school. And I will leave this following scriptural quotation because in a sense it is so relevant to the collection of little corpses at two more schools:


Lonely sits the city

Once great with people!

She that was great among nations

Is become a widow;

The princess among states

Is become a thrall.

Bitterly she weeps in the night,

Her cheek wet with tears.

There is none to comfort her

Of all her friends…

With their own hands, tenderhearted women

Have cooked their children;

Such became their fate,

In the disaster of my poor people…

But you, O LORD, are enthroned forever,

Your throne endures through the ages.

Why have You forgotten us utterly,

Forsaken us for all time?
Take us back, O LORD, to Yourself

And let us come back;

Renew our days of old!

Lamentations 1:1-2; 4:10; 5:19-21

Jews believe that it is possible to live in exile even while living in the Promised Land itself. So it is that perhaps as long as these shootings exist in America, the people live in exile, as described in Lamentations, with the Temple’s destruction being Lamentation’s major theme. We will rebuild our Temple with laws governing how guns can be used and who can use them… but we also need a rebirth of the soul, a recognition of the value of human beings which is the bases both of our various religious traditions and our shared civil religion.


New Publications

I want to apologize to any fans I have because I have not written in so long. The truth is that I have been under the weather, largely due to the fact I have Bipolar Schizoaffective Disorder. I won’t go into any details, but being mentally ill can cause a person to neglect the social whirl in which people are expected to take part. However, I have read Tolstoy’s War and Peace, Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment, and two of three volumes (I am 150 pages into the third) of The Cambridge History of Russia. And there is more.

I have published more of The Bible According to Eve with Urlinkpublishers.com. I already had The Bible According to Eve: The Women of the Torah published. Now, available at Amazon.com, I have:

The Bible According to Eve: The Nevi’im I: The Histories: Eve in Search of Adam;

The Bible According to Eve: Nevi’im II: The Seers: Eve Supplants Lilith;

and The Bible According to Eve: The Ketuvim: Eve Struggles with God and Man and Prevails.

Each of these books break down a certain portion of the Hebrew Bible, and focusses on the stories of the women in those portions. I really believe in this “Book” and hope that somebody will pay money to read it. I also have a book coming out–it is not religious but political in nature:
Faust in Love

It is about politics and Donald Trump is a major character being debunked in the book. I consider myself rather left of center in religion and politics: not really a fan of AOC but absolutely incensed by the racism promoted by Fox network. Although I voted for Hillary Clinton above Donald Trump, in the primaries I voted for Bernie Sanders over Hillary because I felt he had more character–this despite being ambivalent about “Democratic Socialism.” I genuinely like Joe Biden and voted for him, but sometimes the left pushes me farther than I want to go: I don’t understand exactly what the theory of Critical Race Theory says–I mean I don’t understand it, not that I object to it per se–and I guess I didn’t understand how anyone could want to ban Dr. Seuss or other classic kids books from the classroom.

You could argue, “Well, it is not like you are banning War and Peace?” but I believe children who read great books as kids grow up to be great readers as adults. Besides, children ought to have some freedom to choose their own kid’s books, even beyond what their parents think. I hope that doesn’t sound like I am a silly person who doesn’t understand what is going on in our nation or the world.

I am just socially a tad more conservative than the average Democrat is supposed to be–a Conservative Jew who still believes in the goodness of George Washington and the Founding Fathers besides Abraham Lincoln–and sometimes that bothers me. This is despite my firm commitment to the belief in the equality of all human beings–in the form of saying that immigrants coming to America deserve respect, as do our traditional minorities. I believe that was what Thomas Jefferson was trying to say in the Declaration of Independence. I don’t care that he didn’t always live up to it in his private life.

God, Bless My Dreams

I should be in bed asleep, but I had a thought before I go to bed. I thought about all the prayers I ought to say: a prayer for the United States, that we be not just happy and well off but that we be a good people, a brave and just people; a prayer for Israel, that somehow Israel overcomes its present crises and it and the Palestinians come to a happy two-state solution; for the people of Syria, suffering and yet it is partly the United States’ fault that this is so; and Ukraine, suffering under the weight of the tyrant Putin’s invading forces. However, as often happens with me, my prayers are selfish and come back to myself. So I write:

God, Judge me not just on who I am
But on who I want to be.
Judge me based on my heart’s desires
Don’t look at where I fall short of You.
You, Lord, live in my holiest thoughts.

I hope this prayer speaks to somebody else besides me. I have often wished to be a better person than who I actually was. I think it is the common lot of human beings, or as Thoreau put it, “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.” Each one of us wants to stretch out our hands to reach the light peering down on us from the sky. I doubt there is a single person who has not felt like Gregor (the bug) in Kafka’s “Metamorphosis” or longed for the joy of meeting their messiah on Judgment Day–whoever the messiah is in their religion. I refuse to believe that these extremes are in my head merely because I have Bipolar. No, I am convinced that ordinary people are–to paraphrase Solzhenitsyn in The Gulag Archipelago— “half angel and half devil.” Yet we all hope to be among God’s chosen.

Though I hope to be good in my private life, I also long to write the book that justifies my life… or rather, the books… Yet that book will be more than just any book, it will be Paradise Lost or Leaves of Grass or Emily Dickinson’s poems… It will be The Olde Curiosity Shoppe or Jane Eyre or The Brothers Karamazov… It will be A Dream of Red Mansions or The Waiting Years… Literature is holy and profane at the same time… Yet in my heart even literature does not contain the entirety of my dreams… it only helps me portray the images which for me are holy.

Climbing Virtue’s Rungs

I remember once a long time ago, I had a teacher who told me, “Studying is a Process.” At that point in my life I had just begun studying Whitehead and had read Spinoza. I was also just starting my Jewish journey. Yet I had that momentary insight, “Goodness is a Process, too.” We all live, I realized, in a world of flux: a person becomes better or worse according to the individual decisions or works they do. The fact I do an individual homework assignment well helps decide my overall grade in the class. The fact that I greet a friend on the way home who could be lonely is equally a mitzvah (good deed). The Path to Goodness is hence a rung, at the unattainable top of which is God, and at the bottom of which the abyss which a Hitler descends to in the afterlife. To be human is to live for goodness or for evil… and the person who does nothing to be good usually sinks, gradually or quickly, to a worse state.

Though Whitehead speaks of a Creative and Benevolent Mind which is both part of and apart from the Universe but not really ethics, I want to eventually have my views listed as a subheading of Whitehead’s philosophy or my interpretation of it: “Process Ethics.” I want to work out the differences–however fuzzy the area in the human psyche–of good intentions and good deeds.

Ever since childhood, I puzzled over the problem of what it meant to be “good” even at times when I felt I was a rather bad person than not. I was taught Salvation by Faith. I always wondered two questions: How can mere belief without action change anyone? Why would a person deserve damnation for being in the “wrong” faith? There are so many, after all. I remember listening to my paternal Grandma say things like, “If Mother Teresa thinks its her works that are going to Heaven, then she is going straight to hell” and that diluted any real feeling that God was good or that it mattered much whether I was. I sometimes wonder–though I shouldn’t say this publicly–if part of the reason I had to be locked up at 12 was because I had lost faith in any real values that mattered to me before Grandma started talking about her faith with me. I know this sounds unfair… yet in the depts of my despair I hated God, life, my parents and other children. I wanted to die.

Gradually in college, I sorted out that works are acts of faith: that though it is the act that saves, the motivation is faith… yet as I have aged I found that this is only a partial truth… in actuality, works and faith are bound like a baby coming out of the womb tied with umbilical cord. As God gave birth to the world, so we give birth to good deeds. Someday I hope I can write more meaningfully about the subject than this blog. Because I think it needs to be worked out–or, rather, I need to work it out… and perhaps somebody else will find it useful, too.

Before I conclude I want to reaffirm that part of my problem with Salvation by Faith is solved already: the Talmud says “the righteous of all the nations will be saved.” And I believe a distinctly Jewish form of universalism is possible for anyone who loves the religion.

In Conclusion, each one of us wrestles with angels–and each one of us attempts to climb Jacob’s ladder. And on the rungs of that ladder we find God.

Things are Looking Up

Ah… For the last two weeks up to Sunday I was having a horrible time working. For all that time, try though I would I could not read Peter the Great: His Life and World. I would read and reread 300-350 (I think) but could not remember a certain thing in it. Well, I put the book down on Friday and Saturday until after the sunset on Saturday. And then I read 50 pages. And on Sunday I read 50 pages. On Monday, I did not read 100 only because it was Purim and I went to our Purim celebration. And today I read 450-500 and will read to page 550 this evening. 100 pages, my usual goal when I read.

The other problem we have been having is the stove and oven. The stove was not working, and I could not use it or the oven–but as of today we have a new stove and oven. So now this evening we will have eggplant and chickpea stew. Tomorrow perhaps we will have apricot chicken and fragrant rice. All I have to do is buy the groceries. However, tonight we are having the stew.

So it is that when you have lemons you should make lemonade. And though these may seem like small things–the inability to work and the inability to cook–do not doubt that my arising refreshed and able to do these things once more is a marvelous feeling.

The Princess in the Story

I never liked romances. Part of it was my family; except my Aunt Clara, all of my family members make fun of that genre of fiction. Yet part of it is the formulaic nature of those stories: the same hero and heroine meet, fall in love, marry… and usually there is lots of sex in between their falling in love and marrying in the book. For me there was always a sense of tediousness to what I imagined the average romance to be, encapsulated with the three short ones I read in that they each insisted the hero have the perfect butt… and yet there was a truer love story I liked, even more than Austen or the Brontë sisters: the fairy tale. I have not love exclusively loved “The Princess Who Flew Like a White Dove” or “The Donkey Cabbage”–both of which involve a beautiful girl, whether a princess or a witch’s daughter, and a dashing young man, a prince or a hunter. I mention these two stories because they were my two favorite fairy tales–in The Gem Fairy Tales–before I entered kindergarten. Well, there was also “The Little Snow Girl”–but that was a different kind of fairy tale that I might focus on another time; it didn’t include anything about romantic love.

When I was little it was the magic of the story that fascinated me. I think I share this with readers of The Hobbit or The Lord of the Rings. Despite their ostensibly being sci-fi, I think Star Wars and Star Trek appeal to people for much the same reasons. The magic can be translated into sci-fi gadgets and instead of fairies or witches there could be aliens of different sorts. I admit, though: there is a kind of innocence in the fairy tale that even science fiction writers like H.G. Wells miss… but to see the connection, a person need only bare in mind that C.S. Lewis wrote both The Space Trilogy (early sci-fi) and The Chronicles of Narnia (children’s fantasy).

Anyway, I have always thrilled to fairy tales, and even (occasionally) books like Y.B. Yeats’ The Celtic Twilight or 1001 Nights Entertainment to children’s literature that closely mimicking the fantastic from The Tale of Despereaux to Where the Mountain Meets the Moon. I long to find the time to read Giambattista Basile, Giovanni Francesco Straparola and Giuseppe Pitre. I also long to read The Much Laden Ship; Tales of the Marvelous and News of the Strange; and The Ocean of Story. Yet I have so many projects… I never have time to pick them off my shelf… and yet there is a superficial similarity between Aladdin and Sleeping Beauty… and it is there belief in magic… the idea that there is something more to the world than its physical contours…

As a child it was not the Prince and Princess that fascinated me but the magic itself. I wanted to know where the fairies went after the story finished… I believe Tolkien had this curiosity, too… To step into a world where anything is possible… where The Wonderful Wizard of Oz holds hands with “Iron Hans.” I know–intellectually–that de Tocqueville said that democracies tended towards the fantastic in their arts in a way that destroyed their credibility in reality. Yet I can’t believe either that aristocratic cultures don’t have similar fictions or that such fictions are really evil…

The point of all this rambling is that as an adult I have finally discovered that I love the Prince and Princess, too… that perhaps they keep me going when love does not appear to be real in my life… I do have a man I am in love with… he is my Prince… but I don’t know if he is not beyond reach… and that is why I imagine myself as the Princess who he may someday adore… perhaps the love story has something to say to me after all… I still am too proud to read romance novels, but I have–among my things–my favorite childhood movie: Sleeping Beauty, the Disney film. I never find the real “Brier Rose” more moving than that film. So if my Prince ever does read this–and if he can find it in him to say more than a mere “Hello”–know that perhaps despite my love of “the good people” (as Y.B. Yeats claims the Irish peasants call the fairies)–you are the real point of that fairy tale I read as a girl… isn’t it odd to admit that in my forties? I think single women my age are supposed to be giving up on love.

Deed and Spirit

I remember making a grave theological error years ago–luckily, nobody was hurt–in a homework assignment. The idea I propounded was that if a person who means no good in a blameworthy act was deflected in doing their evil deed, then as long as their was no harm done to the intended victim, the first person was rendered blameless. I even went so far as to say that a person might plan a dozen murders, but acting out none of them, be guiltless of any crime. I did this under a shameful misreading of Jewish law. Doubtless the misunderstanding was born of a Protestant Christian upbringing which overemphasized the “opposite” of works: faith. Perhaps also I read into it an explanation I read in a book about how good deeds were “works of faith” but did not go into the possibility of evil which lies inactive.

Anyway, having thought about it–and I hope this is not pompous point being made–I have come to the view through study and prayer to realize that mere good deeds are not enough. This is not to say that a person need be Orthodox or even Conservative or Reform within Judaism to attain the point at which our religion aims towards. It is an attitude of prayerfulness which completes practices like keeping Shabbat or keeping Kosher. Whether a person reads the Sefer Haggadah or Walter Bruggeman’s Theology of the Old Testament to complete their religious study, they should approach what they do with an attitude of humility–without this humility all deeds and all prayers are worthless. It is as Buber insists: between each two people there is a third: God. And to reach the true meaning of a scholarly or sacred text, one must always have God in the heart, too… (Of course, as an Orthodox rabbi I had insisted: a person must have good relations with those people they can see in order to have good relations with God whom they cannot see. In another Blog I may discuss Tzedakah. It is as important as studying and prayer but is too important to be made a subsection to them.)

Anyway… the deed which is good begins with the Spirit that is pure of heart. Don’t misunderstand me: none of us is totally pure at heart, nor does God expect us to be. As one Talmudic adage puts it: “An unmarried man lives a life of sin. Sin, is that so? Well, he lives a life of sinful thoughts.” In the old days early marriage was recommended because it would keep unwanted sexual intercourse from happening. I won’t comment on this save to say that in our age young people must be stronger. The point is that a person who loves God and fills the mitzvoth moves towards a pure heart.

The real purity of heart goes beyond sexual purity; it is to love and be loved by God, and to love one’s fellow human beings as one loves oneself. This love is the binding of thought and deed, wish and prayer, intention and action. The one who has achieved Godliness is the one who when the evil instinct suggests a wrong says, “No,” and the idea disappears and when the good instinct says, “Yes,” both begins to do good and then brings that deed to completion. It is true that good intentions are not good enough: to really bring good into fruition a person must work step by step to carry forth their initial aim to a final end. It is as simple as having a recipe and going through the steps–well, perhaps it is not that simple in real life, because of course none of us receive ready-made recipes in real life… The closest thing is the study of our Chumash and prayerbooks… and the acknowledgment that each of us must give ourselves to others. That is the secret of binding a pure heart to the mitzvoth.

Puerto Rico

Writing my last email I thought of the words “Charity begins at home,” and it occurred to me: “Do I know if, since President Trump left office, anything has been done about the plight of Puerto Rico due to the hurricane that hit there?” I honestly do not know. I know during Trump’s term that U.S. territory had been neglected. It bothered me a great deal at the time… yet perhaps everyone who cares should write to President Biden and Vice President Harris to ask about this place that ought to be considered part of the United States, whatever their official status.

It would be tragic if despite our fine resolutions abroad–whether in Ukraine or in Syria/Texas–we failed to meet that standard at home. Of course, during the terms of George W. Bush and Donald J. Trump, our record abroad was abysmal. Still, George W. Bush mishandling of Hurricane Katerina in New Orleans and Donald J. Trump’s mishandling of Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico ought to put a damper on anybody’s enthusiasm for either president. It is especially blatant an injustice when a person hears about how New York–with its considerable wealth and influence–was helped back onto its feet whereas these other two cities became examples in the locals’ minds of how if a person was a poor member of a minority the powers that be would simply ignore his or her plight.

This said, I do not know if either New Orleans or Puerto Rico have recovered from the disasters that struck them. It is as if for the media “out of sight, out of mind.” I remember taking a week long trip to New Orleans with Catholic Charities during the Bush years in order to try to help with the rubble… I don’t really like bragging; what I did was a pittance, really, but somebody who is a news reporter ought to get a camera out and go see if New Orleans really has recovered, and then go to Puerto Rico to see the same thing there.

This is by no means to denigrate the good done for Ukraine and Syria-Turkey–there is no reason to believe as a nation the United States cannot “do it all.”

Crisis in Syria/Turkey

I have been neglecting an issue in my blog that should be on all of our hearts and minds… it is the crisis in Syria and Turkey… Though workers from the U.S. and other countries–notably war-torn Ukraine–have been struggling to find any survivors of the earthquake, there is still a future mountain to climb: the care of the survivors who will need food, water, and shelter until their homes can be rebuilt. Some of these people have already been suffering since before the earthquake… and all of them need our help…

I have not been able to help in any big way, but just now I tried to donate some money to the UNCHR. It is a pittance according to what needs to be done, and moreover I don’t know if the money has gone through yet because it is Sunday. However, I recommend everyone give a portion to aid the victims of the recent crisis, no matter how small… Remember that in the Talmud it is said that to occasionally give a small amount than to give a huge some all at once… so if you can, give monthly… And keep the victims of disaster in your prayers.

Remember–if you are American–that although the disaster that befell Syria and Turkey in this recent disaster can hardly be blamed on the United States, it is true that the suffering of Syria until the earthquake had a lot to do with American interference with the region. We owe these people.

Remember also the words of John Donne,

No man is an island,
Entire of itself;
Every man is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.

If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less,
As well as if a promontory were:
As well as if a manor of thy friend’s
Or of thine own were.

Any man’s death diminishes me,
Because I am involved in mankind.
And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls;
It tolls for thee.

It is up to us to remember the peoples of Syria and Turkey.

Cicero: the Last True Roman

Although I have longed to find the time to read Gibbon’s The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, I often wish that there were some great book about the rise of the Roman city state and Rome before Julius Cesar. Why? Because the nobility of Rome in its rise surpasses any real moral scruples it had in its decline. Yes, to read about Roman orgies and the ambition of generals more interested in power than they are in the good of Rome itself is depressing. Being a Jew, I might be ambivalent about Rome’s conversion–it transformed Rome and ultimately the West for good. I do not know if I can say–even as a Jew–that Gibbon is right that it only became worse with Catholic Christianity. At least the new faith provided Rome with a new sense of purpose that transcended gladiator games and charioteers which the masses were seduced into watching as away of anesthetizing them to the loss of their freedom. (I guess I will admit that I would not mind these sports so much if they did not involve what was nearly human sacrifice towards the participants of the games.)

As an American I claim the inheritance of two great civilizations that Europe claims also–Greece and Rome. However, I say that in 1776 our Philosopher Kings did something that had died off in Europe: created a state based on the best philosophy that they had available to them. I admit that despite America being usually compared to Rome, I have always preferred Greece. The Romans might have understood, “Captive Greece held Rome captive.” Yet Athens’ decline was simply war and self-destruction. Hellenistic Greece was Greece’s autumn rich in beautiful Art and brilliant Philosophy though it was. Rome’s strength was might and stability, and that is why its decline was slow and involved moral corruption. Yet in the Republic, though not democratic like Athens, there was a sense that nobility shown in people like Scipio Africanus and Cicero. And to be fair: are Ovid and Virgil less beautiful than Homer and Sophocles are noble? With that in mind–and I hope none of this sounds pompous–I am going to place a poem I wrote about the greatest Roman of them all: Cicero, not Brutus. I am not sure it is truly sad that Julius Cesar was assassinated but Cicero was butchered by Mark Antony because of his final acts of decrying the tyranny of a man more corrupt than Shakespeare’s plays reveal.



Rome’s soul died with great Cicero,

the Republic’s last hero before it died

under Octavius Cesar and Mark Antony

who would fight to the Death over Empire.


Cicero would not himself outlast what

he believed in as citizen.

He would not outlive the Republic he loved.

Caught a Senator between ambitious men

the wealthy generals who would fight

for the cause of self before Rome itself,

Cicero fought to have good principles.


He treasured “the Good” Plato loved,

for though more of a statesman

than a philosopher he still loved the thoughts

his open mind could comprehend.


Dear Cicero, was and is the guiding star

of Republics and Self-Rule of Peoples.

Dear Cicero, therefore, grant us your faith

Patriotism be based on the Love of Law.

He loved justice within the good state:

He loved decency more than Power and Wealth.


Cicero could have lived with both if he chose,

but chose that if there was a choice between

the Good and Death or Sensuality and Life

Cicero would always pick the former.


O grant us our ultimate faith in Goodness

the Goodness of Traditions that bind

while realizing that unhappy occasions

arise that require of us we allow for innovations

to keep our basic values fresh anew.


He would die before wearing a Cesar’s crown.

The laws might bend but always will bind.

Cicero was unyielding, firm,

but this made his faith glorious

he refused to give up the right to speak

against any form of tyranny.


It was freedom which had defined Rome—

the land which he loved.

I say with him: May my people live free—

or die, better a self-ruling corpse than a living slave.


And sadly, without their great Cicero

Rome fell to servility, the vices sprang

from the gutters of Rome, and orgies held

for without freedom some impure souls

turn to debauchery, for it is true

the human heart is a restless hunter

and confined in a prison, it festers and rots.


Gladiators the Empire’s entertainment.

Yes, without Cicero Rome fell to disrepute

a brothel unworthy of the two Catos and the two Scipios,

those heroes of earlier times forgotten

who should not go unmentioned by historians

of a better sort of Roman who would die for love

of Justice, and Goodness, and the Republic.


O Cicero!  A man of pride and a patriot

in the best sense of a misused word;

so often the last refuge of the scoundrel,

as many a Cesar or Marc Antony would know.

They claim to be honoring its name

with ever-increasing dreams of power.

Yet Cicero was Rome’s conscience to the very end.

When the Republic died, who cared what next?


I want to add that though this sounds–perhaps–overly traditional and drawn to at least some of the “military virtues” as well as that all-important desire for freedom, I want to add a thought: Could Donald Trump be our Cesar in the sense that even though his open rancor is uglier to see than a Julius Cesar speak? Why? Because he would take American freedom and throw it away. I firmly believe that his only goal is money (and perhaps power) and he must be stopped. I know it looks as though he could not be elected again–but do we know? Hitler in his jail cell wrote Mein Kompf. At one point the German government suggested exporting him to Austria on the grounds that he was an Austrian citizen and not a German one (and indeed, though he fought in World War I in a sense, he was born in Austria). So we must find a way to really put Donald Trump in a prison cell or all may be lost… especially because–if you think about it–if he goes unpunished there will be another one. That is why I invoke Cicero, the last true Roman–he would see his country free or die.

To Read or Not to Read

When I am researching, I try to read 100 pages a day. How I do it is I read 50 pages in the morning/afternoon and 50 pages in the evening. For the longest time I did this with ease, but lately this is often difficult. Either I am busy–but this is only occasionally a problem–or I am lethargic. Lethargy? It may sound like a made-up condition, but the thing is I have anemia, a condition which can cause symptoms like insomnia and sleeping late in the morning. And I admit it with much shame–if I am not going any place, I am apt to sleep late. Yes, I may be punctual to shul and–when I had it–my job at Breakthrough. Yet give me nothing more to do than a shower and a book to read, and I seem to let things slide. More, I had COVID-19 during this Christmas, and my psychiatrist says this can produce lethargy.

Well, for a while I had problems up to COVID-19, I was having trouble managing 50 pages. Yet this week… in reading The Napoleonic Wars: A Global History, I managed to read about 75 pages a day so far… and I believe I may be back up to 100 pages again today. Of course, I am on page 552 and there are 642 pages in the book… I was planning on reading to page 575 of the book tonight after writing this Blog… however, I may have to reread part of what I just read… in the last part it may be slipping out of my mind. However, I believe I can finish the book tomorrow… either way…

I will mention one interesting thing I have learned. The Napoleonic Wars had a major effect on the America’s. The Louisiana Territory we bought from France originally (well, in terms of European powers controlling it) belonged to Spain. Yet because of the war in Europe, France had conquered Spain and in theory controlled all the Spanish territories in the Americas. In reality, though, France could barely control Spain. So it was that Simon Bolivar–though he still cut a dashing figure–also coincided with a time of Spanish weakness while fighting France–and could be one of the rebels who cast Spain out of South America. As for Portugal, because of the French invasion, the British helped its royal family leave Europe for Brazil, where it would rule until the 1880’s.

For me this last part–the influence of the Napoleonic Wars on the America’s–is perhaps the most interesting part of the book… I know this is probably egocentric, considering the United States is the land of my birth. Certainly, there were parts of the Wars that affected countries as broadly placed as England, Russia, Iran, Turkey, Egypt, Spain, and Portugal outside of the Americas. Yet to find myself in world events–at least in the case of Napoleon selling the land of the Louisiana Purchase to the United States–along with the countries I first learned about in Middle School in a class called America’s Neighbors, is for me exhilarating.

Some day I hope to read about the history of Latin and pre-Latin America. I want to write about this some in two books: Living in the Looking Glass and Once Upon a Time When the World was Young. The hero and heroine of Discovering Wonderland will take America’s Neighbors in the sequel to that book Living in the Looking Glass. Though my Middle School teacher will be in the book, he will know more than he did in real life: the fruit of my labors may even exist in his having hot cacao that the ancient Mexicans (or Aztecs) drank for the children to drink side by side with the “French Blend” of our modern hot chocolate (first concocted in the 19th century). He will begin America’s Neighbors with these samples and the words, “the world of the pre-Columbian Americans is not truly dead. It even exists in the foods we eat: the potato, the tomato, and–drumroll–chocolate. Of course, our chocolate is a little different than ours, so I will let you taste both. Then we will begin with the domestication of the potato, the sweet potato, the tomato, and the cacao bean. It will only be the next class that we get to the tribal history of the early Americas, long before the Europeans came. This class is only half about the white and African people who came to populate our southern borders.”

The other book–Once When the World was Young–focuses more on the characters of Jeffry and Sally, who married because Jeffry got Sally pregnant in their senior of High School. In the book, Jeffry ends up fighting in Vietnam as a pilot while Sally stays nearby in Japan. However, when they come home, the relevant character appears changed from the loyal little brother Jeffry remembered and loved. Billie is a college student and hippie, and his obsession is studying the Amerindians. “I want to study the good stuff, not just the tragedies of the Trail of Tears and the lesser known atrocities. I want to know about the legends that made the Amerindians great, not just their military histories. Don’t get me wrong: reading about Tecumseh and Crazy Horse is great. But I want to study is their love of the buffalo, their animal totems, their mythologies, their weaving, their bead art, and everything that made the braves tick.”

Yet that is in the distant future–although I guess I am obligated to write those two books now. For now I am trying to read The Napoleonic Wars: A Global History.

To Embrace the Leper

Years ago an elderly Jew at my synagogue said of the weekly reading, “Each one of us has a portion we wish we could leave out. My portion is the portion on leprosy. I wish we did not have to read that the leper is cast out of the community.” Of course, we know the truth that the Talmud negates this law: it says that the separation of the leper from the community is for the good of the leper and not a punishment, and that the person who checks the leper until they are healed is a priest–the holiest person in the community, birth wise. Despite the mitigation of the law and the fact it is no longer practiced today, it grates harshly on the ears, and we wonder, “Surely God does not will it so.”

For me there is another law that is even closer to home, with similar reasoning behind it. Schizophrenics in the Torah merit stoning, and I have Bipolar Schizoaffective Disorder. Again, in the Talmud it says that the sick deserve protection, both physical and also–in the case where somebody who is sick is to inherit money–monetary. I can claim with some pride that there are Jews–like Freud–who have made special efforts to remove the stigma on mental illness. More, I believe the Jews in my synagogue accept me fine, though there have been some exceptions.

Yet I believe there is a tradition as much a part of the Law which teaches the Jew to embrace the leper and the madman. It speaks of the mashiach himself,

He was despised, and forsaken of men,
A man of pains, and acquainted with disease,
And as one from whom men hide their face
He was despised, and we esteemed him not.
Surely our diseases he did bear, and our pains he carried;
Whereas we did esteem him stricken,
Smitten of God, and afflicted.
But he was would because of our transgressions,
He was crushed because of our iniquities:
The chastisement of our welfare was upon him,
And with his stripes we were healed.

Christians will recognize this as one of the proof texts of Christianity. For Jews… for us it may refer to the Jewish people as a whole. I prefer this ladder interpretation. Because with it I may be–despite my illness–a part of the mashiach. I am not, of course, anything like the whole banana. I am a mere human being, and I can never become God. Yet when I suffer, God suffers through me. And when I feel joy, God experiences it through me. The question arises, “What about other people? Does God love only the Jews?”

Years ago I came across a Midrash. It said that God planted a garden for the sake of a Lily. Yet brambles got into the garden. God could not pull out the brambles because if God did, he would destroy the lily. Yet there was this promise–there may be other flowers which God planted in the garden which may be as blessed as the Lily to God. The Law says, “The righteous of the nations shall be saved,” and when God comes for his harvest, he may have–I believe he shall have–a basket full of Lilies.

So it is that even those regarded as stigmatized–those traditionally outside of faith, like the lunatic, the eunuch, and the leper–will be embraced and added to those traditionally regarded as saved. For that reason I will write a poem of my own:

God’s daughter given to the Jews
Is a Pale Lily blossoming rich
In faith and mitzvoth for the ones who love
The beloved bride, as the Torah is.
The Torah loves who will embracing it.